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Irrational flag debate

Two weeks ago, I criticized the tactics of the NAACP in its attempt to remove the flag from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. This criticism is lopsided--the NAACP is not the only irrational party in the flag debacle.

A fact I did not make clear in the previous column is that I am a native South Carolinian. I lived, was educated and worked in South Carolina until relocating here for graduate school.

My mother told me before I left for a year in England never to be ashamed of being a Southerner, that good manners and good taste never go out of style and will take me a long way. But a genuine love of the South has not blinded me to its faults. I can defend others who are proud of Southern heritage even while disagreeing with some of the sentiment. It is too easy to dismiss Southerners as backward racists. It's too easy to overlook the similar sins of other cultures when one's wrath is so focused on a particular one. We can say a culture did a bad thing, but to say the culture is bad because it did a bad thing is a gross oversimplification.

Therein lays my criticism of the NAACP's actions: Calling the flag supporters racists is inappropriate and creates a situation where flag supporters must continue to fly the flag or else admit to racism rather than insensitivity. You can imagine my surprise to find the column, along with my home telephone number, posted to various flag-waving Internet groups, almost every one of them livid over my having called the flag supporters racists (corollary to my view that a representative government should not fly it), a position I had explicitly rejected. This response underscored the point that both sides of this mess are too angry to be reasonable.

For a columnist facing criticism, the easy way out is to ignore the bad e-mail. Not wanting to be a sissy journalist, I attempted to respond rationally. The exchange instantly devolved into outrage that I would not address such claims as, by a margin of 2:1, South Carolinians want the flag flying as a symbol of their heritage; or irrelevant "facts," such as only 5 percent of abducted Africans came to the United States; or such simpleton logic as: The Confederate flag did not fly over any slave ship and therefore cannot be associated with slavery. One man wrote that, according to my faulty logic, DNA (that's deoxyribonucleic acid, in case I didn't know) was racist.

Other "counter-arguments" included: (a) We're not being insensitive--what is there to be sensitive to? (b) The war wasn't fought over slavery, anyway. (I'm still not sure of the relevance of this theory, although I am assured it proves I am wrong.) (c) Was I not aware that other cultures enslaved humans before the South and continued to do so afterward? (Again, I am assured that this point proves I am wrong and that it is unfortunate my graduate-school education has not enabled me to see this.)

Several asserted that my refusal to address such obviously conclusive arguments indicated that, deep in my pansy liberal heart, I knew they were right. One woman said that she had come to expect such a cowardly response from supposedly educated people. I've no doubt that she has.

She also hoped I continued my studies at Duke, because I had a lot to learn, as if the lesson she thought I needed would be taught at Duke. (Most did concur, however, that I had been brainwashed by the politically correct liberals at my fancy school-yes, I did giggle at this notion.)

As much as these critics would hate to see it, their responses resoundingly proved my point: They are hell-bent on flying the flag because they are desperate to prove that they are not racists for wanting to do so. They are so defensive that, when I wrote a column harshly criticizing the NAACP for calling flag supporters racists, they howled in rage at their perception that I had equated supporting the flag with racism.

I stand by my assertion that most people want the flag removed.

Unfortunately, both the flag haters and the flag fanatics are too blinded by their rage to be rational or productive. One writer of a well-considered response pointed out the importance of education and critical thinking skills to debate. He is quite right. Oh, well.

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